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Oct 2, 2008 12:53 AM

Chinese in Paris

A few recent threads have alluded to good Chinese food in Paris and I would love to hear your favorites!

I lived in China for four years and crave Sichuan food, which I have not had much luck finding. From chatting with Chinese folks here it seems like most Chinese restaurants are run by people from Wenzhou, which is not exactly renowned for its cuisine.

I have tried Iris in the 3ème, which I thought was good but not spectacular. I enjoyed a cold dish of spicy shredded potatoes and the hot and sour stir-fried cabbage. The yuxiang rousi was serviceable but lacked depth of flavor. I was disappointed that they didn't have mapo doufu (and they claim to serve Sichuanese food -- ha!). The lamb chuan'r was more gristle than meat; though the cumin flavor was authentic, this was not a favorite (but to be fair, it's not one of my favorites in China either).

Chinese friends have mentioned there is a Sichuan place at the Galeries Lafayette -- has anyone tried it?

Any other suggestions?

Side note -- does anyone know where to find fermented black beans? They don't carry them at Tang Frères. Also how to say it in French? "Les haricots de soja noir fermenté" didn't seem to be ringing any bells...

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  1. Good luck on finding the black beans. I remember trying to find kaffir limes for a Thai meal. I think I visited every shop in the 13eme. I could get every other fresh ingredient but struggled to find them, and similarly had a challenge translating the name.

    7 Replies
    1. re: PhilD

      Ah, this could be an entirely different thread -- How to find special ingredients in Paris. I was cringing as I described these "special beans" of soja, that are black and very salty and "give Chinese dishes their flavor." One grocer told me they don't even sell them in France! And he was Chinese and we spoke Chinese together so he definitely knew what I was talking about. Later that day I was watching Kylie Kwong dubbed into French and she went merrily along talking about "les haricots noirs" -- so who knows?

      More cooking vocabulary -- I recently discovered l'étamine is cheesecloth. And lait ribot is buttermilk, right? I am trying to make cheese. (coals to newcastle, I know).

      1. re: Cookingthebooks

        That is so strange… Maybe I'll go have a look in our local Asian supermarket this evening. They don't even have black bean sauce in a jar at Tang Frères?

        According to French Wikipédia, they say "lait ribot" in Brittany but the standard term is "babeurre".

        1. re: DeppityDawg

          I didn't even see the jarred stuff at Tang Frères, though there was some black bean and chili sauce at the Chinese shop across the street. But I'm really looking for just the black beans, generally sold in bags at Asian supermarkets. If you discover them, let me know!

          Thanks for confirmation of "lait ribot." I saw bottles of it at Monoprix and ran home to consult chowhound!

          1. re: Cookingthebooks

            Hi again. I just bought a big (one-pound!) bag of 豆豉 at Paris Store (not in Paris). They're labeled "haricot soja noir salé", Eaglobe brand, made in China. They were not hard to find, in the soy sauce aisle. So have another look, or I can send these to you! I never cook with them (but I might have to start now…)

            1. re: DeppityDawg

              I also saw a bag of black beans today at Supermarché H.8 (94 av Jaurès in Aubervilliers, M° 4 Chemins). A lot of interesting asian products are imported by dutch companies and we get them though the open european market. The bottle of korean baekseju that I got today for a rice-wine/ginseng fix, for example :)

              In general, H.8 is worth looking at, as it overwhelmingly serves recent immigrants.

              1. re: tmso

                Great tip!! Thanks so much! I will check it out and report back.

        2. re: Cookingthebooks

          "Lait Fermenté" is buttermilk. You can get it in most supermarkets. North Africans go mad for it - they drink tons of it around ramadan - so you can find it in Arab grocery stores. Not to be cofused with "lait caillé" which is thicker.

      2. across the street from iris is another chinese restaurant that i like - their specialty is the sichuan hot plate. i've been wanting to try asia palace (which souphie recommends) but haven't made it there yet (it's in the 13th).

        13 Replies
        1. re: patz

          If you want to go Asia Palace sometime, let me know, also had Lait ribot in Brittany last year, was as thick as creme fraiche but with a yogurty feel, and strong sour taste, made on site, very interesting and good, but not like any buttermilk l have had, and l love buttermilk

          1. re: Delucacheesemonger

            Asia Palace: yum. When? That's my standard sunday lunch with family and friends.

            Re Sichuan cuisine (which I assume is same as Szechuan?), here is a restaurant which I like, is cheap, and has mostly Chinese patrons: Chez Yong, rue de la Colonie. Some pictures froma very recent meal:

            I don't know if there are spectacular Chinese places, especially in terms of authenticity. Chinese restaurants in Paris, ay any level, are where we locals go for good value meals, be they dirt cheap student places or fancy meals with nice china (See Tse Yang rue Pierre 1er de Serbie, Tang rue de la Tour, and Vong rue de la Grande Truanderie -- Chen rue du théatre seems closed, alas. Also Passy Mandarins facing the Passy market).

            Many Americans here find them not authentic, basically because they're not like the Californian or NY "originals". I feel the same way when I go to the US. In general, I tend to think that "authenticity" is particularly irrelevant. We have good restaurants in here that qualify as "Chinese" but probably not "Chinese Chinese".

            1. re: souphie

              Hey Souphie.

              You wrote:

              don't know if there are spectacular Chinese places, especially in terms of authenticity. Chinese restaurants in Paris, ay any level, are where we locals go for good value meals, be they dirt cheap student places or fancy meals with nice china (See Tse Yang rue Pierre 1er de Serbie, Tang rue de la Tour, and Vong rue de la Grande Truanderie -- Chen rue du théatre seems closed, alas. Also Passy Mandarins facing the Passy market).

              Which of these are the cheaper ones you would recommend? I've got my expensive places for my November France trip, and I have been searching through Chow Hound trying to identify the good cheaper places. There been lots of threads on this but I haven't seen one on Chinese food. So any suggestions you have would be much appreciated.


              1. re: souphie

                So mediocre is the best we can expect?! I think you're doing the "locals" (of which I include myself -- sorry -- I may be American and newly arrived, but I do live in Paris and have a palate) a great disservice by saying that Chinese restaurants are only appropriate for "good value meals." I go to Chinese restaurants for GOOD if not GREAT meals. Period. Anyway, as Chowhounds shouldn't we be striving to seek out the best?

                1. re: Cookingthebooks

                  I'm not saying that -- I don't think that good value implies mediocre. I'm saying that we go there because they're good and good value, not because they're authentic. I think I am as demanding as any foodie when it comes to restaurants and those restaurants are all on my regular rotation.

                  Medicine jar, I listed some Asian food cheap places before -- Chez Yong is a recent addition. Among traiteurs, there are some better ones, and obviously I don't know them all, but there's one on rue du Commerce and one on rue Cler. For cheap restaurants, I like Solya av. de Choisy, Le Président in Belleville, of course the Asia palace.

                  Pho 14 on av. de Choisy is excellent and dirt cheap for huge bowls of soup. Thao Ly, rue Berthollet, also dirst cheap. Co Ta on rue Croix Nivert is excellent and affordable.

                  1. re: Cookingthebooks

                    I tend to be one of those with an extreme view. I find that in many cities Asian food (Chinese, Indian, Vietnamese etc) ranges from very bad to average, with very few examples of really good. When we lived in Paris we kept trying to find a "good" Asian restaurant as we often craved a change from French food. But we never did. I come from Sydney and have lived in Hong Kong so I expect that influences my expectations.

                    But what is good? Maybe an analogy will work best here. For many years I drank Chardonnay, I had a reasonable palette and could easily discriminate between good and bad examples. I wasn't an expert but I was very confident and I enjoyed my Chardonnay. I then went to Puligny-Monrachet and Chablis, I tasted good Premier and Grand Crus from both areas. I now understand what "good" Chardonnay is all about, and I find it difficult to return to the Chardonnays I used to drink. I feel the same about Asian food, I used to be quite happy with what I thought was good food, I now understand what is possible, and therefore find the bar has been raised.

                    I am less concerned with "authenticity" as I find this isn't a particularly useful measure. For example, are "Picard" croissants any less authentic than a great boulangeries? Is a badly cooked meal less authentic than a well cooked meal? To me authenticity is interesting and is one end of a spectrum of food experience. It rarely indicates quality.

                    Another proof point for good food is the number of people from that background who eat at a restaurant. But is that reliable? Often the restaurants are low cost catering to economically disadvantaged people. Or they exist to meet the distant memories and expectations of immigrants. To paraphrase a comment from the Dos Hermandos blog: why do we expect that someone born in a country is an expert on their home cuisine? If that was true we would judge Hippopotamus, Leon, or Quick as "must try" French classics.

                    So coming back to Paris. As I said earlier we did try to find Asian food that was worth the effort in Paris and we generally failed. As a result we tended to make our own after spending sprees at Tang Frères. If you live in Paris it is fun to explore and keep the quest going in the hope you may find something good, let alone great. For visitors to Paris I would say avoid Asian restaurants, they won't be better than you can get a home. Better to stick to great French food that is freely available and will knock the spots of just about anything at home.

                    PS - it is a couple of years since we moved from Paris, and things do change - it would be good to hear if there are any signs of a revolution and move away from the mediocre.

                    1. re: PhilD

                      IMHO, no big changes, sushi mediocre and expensive with rare exception, Chinese, which is the only meal l eat out, with rare exception, in US is less than accustomed to there, and never found the others, Thai, Korean, etc. to be of an equal caliber to what had in US or the original country. To add to that Thai in Thailand is a whole other story, so much better than anywhere but there, so try to rarely eat Thai except in SE asia. Some noodle shops in Paris, like Noodle Town, near Hotel Druout, are fine, maybe l am not that discriminating on noodle soups. Am going to try Souphie's Asia Palace, as why not, no risk involved. Find Chinese in large US cities excellent but not quite the same, neither better or worse than mother country, just different. Still remember hole in the wall places in Hong Kong that always made me skip the 'known' places and were spot on wonderful

                      1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                        PhilD, Delucacheesemonger -- thanks for your assessment of the situation. I would love to try Asia Palace with y'all sometime -- you too, Souphie. Maybe we can do a Chow lunch get together or something. In the meantime, I'll keep posting back here with my Chinese restaurant experiences, be they good or bad!

                        1. re: Cookingthebooks

                          Not with Souphie, but am doing Asia Palace Sunday with a friend, you are welcome to join

                  2. re: souphie

                    What makes you think Chen is closed?

                    I know it wasn't at the beginning of the year, since I was there early February... but I didn't go back since then. Well, to be honest, closed or not, I wouldn't return: I felt it was quite overpriced, and the Maître d' was... hmm, one of a kind!

                    One has (had?) to go there for the duck and skip starters & desserts, IMHO, but, even for this dish, there may be some equally good and cheaper alternatives.

                    1. re: olivierb

                      My bad, Chen is NOT closed. I don't know what I was thinking. I went by the other day and it looked closed -- maybe it's because the whole neighbourhood is under construction... Or because Mr. Chen died so long ago I did not imagine that the restaurant would last that long without him...

                      Yes, the Peking duck was renowned, but I always found the one at Vong way better. What is truly unique to Chen is that mix of French nouvelle cuisine and Chinese food, with French ingredients, truffle, etc. To be fair, Tang rue de la Tour does that too, maybe with not quite as much success but with an extraordinary wine list.

                      One of my favourite Chen specialties is the Turbot "voilier", with the Turbot's skeletton deep-fat fried, standing so it looks like some strange sail, and edible.

                      The Maitre d'h is indeed one of a kind -- this is French tradition for better or worse. For the record, some people love it that way.

                      1. re: souphie

                        OK, thanks for the update, even if, as I said, I'm not sure I'll ever go back there.
                        I was particularly underwhelmed by the French/Chinese mix you mention, as our starters really weren't that interesting.

                        I don't even know how they survive, really (apart from the quite high prices on both the food and the wine). The Beaugrenelle area is quite depressing in itself, but add a half-empty room on a Friday night on top of that and that's just plain sad.

                        1. re: olivierb

                          I get your point. I just love that Blade Runner, post-modern, surreal feeeling. Love the neigbourhood, love the originality of the place. I think I like the place better than the food.

              2. I'm not sure if this is what you are needing, but I bought a jar of Chinese "black bean garlic sauce" (i.e., fermented black beans in a sauce) at Velan grocery in the Passage Brady. It is an Indian food shop, but they stock foods from elsewhere too.

                1. I vaguely remember La Grande Epicerie @ Bon Marche having a selection of Chinese/Asian products.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: whs

                    WHS - Tang Frères (mentioned in the OP) is the Asian equivalent of Bon Marche, it is a very large Asian supermarket in the 13eme. Not quite as much floor space as Bon marche but pretty close, it also has a lot of other large Asian stores, grocery stores and supermarkets in the same area.

                    You can get just about an Asian product here, but strangely not all. It seems some things simply don't get imported to France.

                  2. I went by Asia Palace today for dim sum. It was OK, though I was in HK a few weeks ago and am judging it by that standard. I've posted a review ( I've just moved to Paris for the year, so any foodie tips or advice are appreciated!

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: mark_s

                      Thanks for pictures, doe not look even close to WOW, hmmmmn

                      1. re: mark_s

                        I don't think there's much better in Paris. I don't think you should expect Chinese food in Paris as good as HK more than you can expect excellent French food anywhere in the world. This is asking to be disappointed. Kind of like me going to Manresa.

                        You guys at the Asia Palace, don't forget to get the pate de navets among the dim sums and make sure you have some rotisserie stuff.

                        1. re: souphie

                          Just to clarify one more time -- I am not expecting Chinese food in Paris to be as good as in HK or Beijing -- and certainly not as good as HK dimsum, which in my mind is unparalleled. I merely asked for your favorite Chinese restaurant suggestions. I will try Asia Palace with pleasure. I tried Mirama in the 5ème earlier this week and found it very, very mediocre. I only mention this because the long queue of people might suggest that it was good. It wasn't. But I'll keep trying and reporting back and would love to hear about your thoughts and experiences as well.

                          1. re: Cookingthebooks

                            I should have listened to you, but some old friend said the Peking duck at Mirama rocked. He was wrong and you are right. Here are some pics:

                            By the way, I forgot to recommend Lao Tseu bd St Germain (@ Raspail).